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LOS ANGELES -- A growing number of anti-smoking researchers and public health advocates are suggesting that hard-core smokers who can't kick the habit would be better off switching to new smokeless tobacco products, reported the Los Angeles Times.
With slogans such as "Spit-free" and "For when you can't smoke," these products are clean, discreet, last about 30 minutes and come in mint, wintergreen and other flavors. Some go down easily, dissolving much like a breath mint, while others look like tiny, tobacco-filled teabags, tucked into the side of the mouth and discarded like chewing gum.
Though no one is calling the products "safe" -- any tobacco that has been cured contains some carcinogens -- numerous epidemiological studies have shown that smokeless tobacco is far less likely to cause any type of cancer, including oral cancer, than cigarettes.
"If someone can't quit smoking, there is no question that smokeless is much safer. It doesn't cause heart or lung disease, and if it does cause cancer, it does so at a much lower rate," said Dr. Neal Benowitz, a professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, and director of its cancer center's Tobacco Control Program.
Gary Giovino, director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., agreed. "If everybody who smoked used these instead, there would be less disease."
With names that include Ariva and Stonewall, both made by Star Scientific Inc., and Revel, made by U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., which also makes the Copenhagen and Skoal brands, the new products have been rolled out in a few U.S. cities and are also available from their manufacturers' Web sites. They promise to deliver the nicotine fix smokers crave and take the edge off the physiological urge to light up.
Although the nicotine in cigarettes is powerfully addictive, it is the cigarette smoke -- not the nicotine -- that delivers the killer punch, possibly producing as many as 60 known carcinogens and about 5,000 other chemicals. Studies show that many people still believe that it is the nicotine that is the harmful element.
Many public health advocates fear that providing smokers with alternative products will keep them from quitting altogether, the healthiest option. They also fear that some nonsmokers, including teenagers, might start using them and, if they do, that the nicotine will encourage them to start smoking.